The United Arab Emirates committed a “severe” violation of FEI rules by running two premier endurance races as national events last winter, in a “knowing and deliberate” response to the robust new FEI endurance rules.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) dismissed an appeal against last fall’s suspension of the UAE federation by the FEI. The appeal was lodged jointly by the UAE federation and the organisers of the two races, Dubai Equestrian Club (DEC) and the Emirates International Endurance Village (EIEV) in Abu Dhabi.

While CAS reduced some of the sanctions, this still leaves ride organisers having to pay the FEI a total of CHF 887,448 (CAN $ 1,194613) in fines and organising dues.

CAS’s operative decision was announced earlier this year but its full reasoning has only recently been published.

Last September the FEI Board suspended the UAE following an investigation into the 160km Sheikh Mohammed Cup at DEC in January 2020 and 160km President’s Cup at EIEV in February 2020. These races should have been have been staged (as previously) as International Endurance Events (CEIs) because the foreign riders far exceeded the quota permitted CENs are limited to four National Federations (NFs) and/or no more than 15 foreign athletes aside from “athletes living outside their country of nationality.” Investigators Bird & Bird LLP found that 93 foreign riders from 24 different countries participated in the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and 88 from 21 in the 2020 President’s Cup.

The FEI Board concluded the violations at the Sheikh Mohammed Cup were intentional, and at the President’s Cup “at the very least negligent.” It concluded the reclassification was to avoid applying the new FEI Endurance Rules effective from 1 January 2020. A “significant sanction” was required.

At the CAS hearing, the FEI said its endurance reforms placed greater emphasis on horse welfare and horsemanship. The UAE had made clear its “implacable” opposition, notably to measures aimed at reducing speed, and in discussion with the FEI in early 2020, UAE personnel warned they would start running more rides as national events under their own, unreformed rules. The FEI alleged the two marquee events were staged “exactly in previous years,” with large foreign contingents competing for “enormous” prize money and even “branding” them FEI events, despite their now being CENs.

Bird & Bird found that the UAE had never applied to be host NF for 73 of the riders claimed to be resident foreign nationals. .In extensive correspondence with the FEI between January 21 and the President’s Cup, CAS said there was no misleading information from the FEI, contrary to the appellants’ claim they did not understand the participation constraints. In fact the FEI had emphasised its power to verify rider eligibility.

CAS agreed the UAE’s “inexplicable” behaviour resulted from its opposition to the new FEI rules. CAS said the “illegal staging of events labelled as CNs but having a nature of CIs was a knowing and deliberate response to the 2020 FEI endurance rules.” The violation is “severe.” The UAE “simply tried to avoid answering the FEI’s requests with respect to the Sheikh Mohammed Cup.”

DEC claimed that more foreign riders participated than permitted in the Sheikh Mohammed Cup due to an “administrative issue” and was thus a very “minor” breach. The Emirates village argued it had actively liaised with the FEI in order not to breach the CEN rules at the February 160m, but claimed the FEI did not help because it was not receiving cooperation over the Sheikh Mohammed Cup. The UAE eventually tried to “characterize” the Presidents Cup as “totally outside of the federative jurisdiction.” There was some small mitigation for the President’s Cup, where all 146 foreigners were erroneously considered to be “resident;” that rule violation was “negligent” rather than deliberate.

The UAE NF – which has still not aligned its national rules with the new FEI rules – argued there were no welfare issues at the two rides. The FEI said this showed the UAE’s lack of appreciation of FEI regulatory authority; in frustrating that transparency and accountability, the UAE NF “lost the right to rely on alleged lack of horse welfare issues at these events.”

CAS reduced some but not all of the sanctions to a level “proportionate” to the magnitude of the offences, and because some of them lacked a legal basis. CAS upheld the overall suspension of all UAE activities to December 31, 2020, but brought the extended suspension of endurance through March 2021 back in line with other disciplines. Fines to DEC based on a percentage of prize-money were reduced from 50% to 25% for the Sheikh Mohammed Cup, now totalling CHF 529,884 plus CHF 41, 445 in organising dues. Fines to the Emirates village were reduced from 10% to 5% for The President’s Cup, now totalling CHF 246,558 plus organising dues of CHF 69,561.

Bird & Bird had originally recommended the fines be 100% of prize money for the Sheikh Mohammed Cup and 25% for the Presidents Cup.